Last week, I spoke for the first time as shadow minister for higher education from the despatch box in the House of Commons. I demanded answers from the government on its choice to allow students to return to universities as late as May 17.
Until last week there had been exam-room silence from ministers on an issue that will affect more than a million students – who have already suffered so much during this pandemic.
Still, the government has failed to justify its completely incoherent and inconsistent approach to reopening.
Why are universities excluded as schools, colleges, businesses, libraries and community centres return to normal?
And don’t forget you can sit in a car and be taught to drive barely one foot from the instructor, yet students can’t resume their learning in a socially distanced, well-ventilated lecture or seminar room.
And quite rightly, students lost faith in the government to represent their interests long ago. And now I hear the University of Warwick and Coventry University, along with many other institutions, have also spoken of their disappointment about the government’s confused reopening.
Students have been abandoned and forgotten once again. There will be more to come on this.
Last Wednesday, I also had another opportunity to lock horns with Boris Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions. He didn’t seem to like my question very much!
Since he became Prime Minister, the sound of Big Ben’s bongs has been replaced by the cash-till sound of Big Donor Bungs.
There has been a threefold increase in donations to the Conservative Party from property developers since he was elected – a total of £11million.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick cosied up to property magnate Richard Desmond, approving his luxury housing scheme after a lavish dinner.
Mr Jenrick and his ministers awarded each other’s constituencies tens of millions of pounds from the Towns Fund – the vast majority of which went to wealthier Conservative constituencies, like the Chancellor’s in Richmond, rather than the more deprived – like South Shields.
The Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been responding to calls and texts from former Prime Minister David Cameron whose lobbying for failed firm Greensill Capital to receive Covid business support has prompted yet more accusations of cronyism – and has developed into a serious scandal.
Only today it was revealed that Boris Johnson had ‘fixed’ billionaire businessman James Dyson’s concerns about high taxes in return for his Singapore-based company producing ventilators for the UK. Although the Prime Minister’s role is not yet entirely clear, it does not look good.
As I said in my question to him, due to his heritage he may be familiar with the Turkish proverb that claims, ‘fish rots from the head down.’
The fact of the matter is: under his watch, big money donors are buying favours nationally and locally.
Maybe the truth hurts.